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Turning Customer Ed Programs Into Revenue Streams

with Joe Ryan, Training Program Manager at Maltego

Customer education shouldn't be an afterthought. 

If businesses want to succeed, they need to make customer education a clear priority for everyone.

In our latest LEARN episode, guest Joe Ryan, Training Program Manager at Maltego and Founder of Customer Education Newsletter, dives deep into how customer education can benefit a company’s different departments and the future of the industry.


“Customer education does need to be viewed as something that touches every part of the customer life cycle and the customer journey. There needs to be a conscious effort to ensure that all parts of an organization are working together to incorporate customer education into what they do,” says Joe Ryan, Training Program Manager at Maltego & Founder of Customer Education Newsletter.

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In this episode, Joe discusses the importance and value customer education can bring to an organization. Along the way, we also touch on the transition from free to paid services and fitting customer education in sales processes.

Key takeaways:

  1. Incorporating customer education successfully depends on an organization’s maturity.
  2. Relegating customer education as a last-ditch effort for customer retention wastes its potential.
  3. Growing the customer education industry and community requires professionals to be more vocal about how it fits into an organization’s structure.

Listen on your favorite podcast app to discover how customer education can bring massive value to your company.

Timestamps

[05:04] Is customer education a revenue driver or cost center?

[08:54] Shifting from a free to a paid model

[10:26] Customer education and sales enablement

[22:53] The north star for customer education

[24:21] Tracking customer education metrics

[25:46] Predicting the future of customer education

Transcript

Joe: Where I see the trend needing to move is that customer education does need to be viewed as something that touches every part of the customer life cycle and the customer journey.

I don't think that that necessarily has to be reflected in the customer organization, but I do think that there needs to be a conscious effort to ensure that all parts of the organization are working together to ensure that customer education is something that they're incorporating.

Ted: Hi, I'm Ted Blosser, CEO and co-founder of WorkRamp, where we're redefining the corporate learning space with the world's first all-in-one learning cloud for employee and customer learning. Welcome to the Learn Podcast, where we learn from the biggest leaders in SaaS and hear what makes them successful.

Hope you enjoy the show.

Ted: Hey, what's up everybody? Welcome back to the LEARN podcast. We have an amazing guest today. It's actually part of our practitioner series. Our practitioner series is in high demand. People want to know what's actually happening in the field. And so today we have Joe Ryan Training Manager at Maltego Technologies.

If you aren't a subscriber yet, definitely subscribe here. He's the author of a really popular newsletter called The Customer Education Weekly. Joe, thanks for coming on.

Joe: Thanks so much, Ted. Super glad to be here.

Ted: Well, before we get into a lot of the topics we're going to get into today, I want to kick off with some background on yourself. Give us your elevator pitch both on yourself and then give us the elevator pitch on how this customer education weekly came about.

Joe: I consider myself a customer education professional, who takes more of a leadership role just in the community. And the reason I say that is because just like a lot of the people out there, I'm still learning from a lot of people who have been doing this much longer than I have.

I really come from a training facilitation background. So I was working in training for about 10 years, started in government and I was doing a lot of live facilitation, talking to upwards of a hundred thousand people a year, doing live workshops and seminars.

So I've definitely paid my dues in the training delivery world. It wasn't until I moved to Germany in 2019 and I had to transition into private industry that I started applying those skills to customer education. So, in the last three years, I started working in technical documentation and then instructional design.

And now I work as the training manager at multigo, where I also lead a team. And so I have the opportunity to. direct our customer education program to build and work with a phenomenal team and I still get to deliver training directly to customers and I just wrapped up a three-hour training session right before this call.

So, it's certainly one of my favorite parts of the job

Ted: Give us some, idea of the scale multigo types of clients you're working with, so that someone can get a good frame of reference of your day-to-day now.

Joe: So Maltego is still a pretty small company. We have about 130 employees at the moment, but when I joined about two years ago, we had about 50, so we're still growing pretty quickly. And a lot of the customers that we work with are government customers and cyber security customers, it's a very broad base that we're training.

And one of the challenges that we face actually is. being able to serve all of those different customers in their different domains. for instance, it's very tough for me to train a cybersecurity customer because I don't know that much about cybersecurity. So, I train customers from one segment, and then we have other trainers who train customers from other segments.

And so that's kind of a layer that we have to deal with when we're training a lot of our customers.

Ted: Cool. All right. Let's hear about customer education weekly. How did that come about? I'm a happy subscriber, by the way. That's how I get, my news and stay up to date. So thanks for putting that out in the world.

Joe: I really appreciate that. Every subscriber makes me feel like I'm doing something right. I started working on Customer Education Weekly when I was just trying to educate myself. I was collecting a lot of resources and saving them privately, reading them each week.

And I started to identify, okay, this company releases a lot of great stuff. Started saving all these ebooks and registering for webinars and reading all of these blog posts and I started to realize that there were probably a lot of people out there like me who Still wanted to learn a lot; maybe they're new to the role. Maybe someone like an instructional designer who wants to the program management side of things, and maybe it's a veteran who just wants to keep in touch with everything that's going on in the world of customer education.

So, one of the big motivators for me was putting this together so that we as a community could really work together more. And have the greatest impact because I customer education, kind of a buzzword right now, but it hasn't been for very long. And I'm hoping it seems like it's picking up momentum, but you know, if the newsletter helps with that, even just a little bit, then I'm really happy.

Ted: I'm so glad we got to meet from there. I think, you reposted maybe one of our podcasts or something. and I was like, who is Joe? I have to get to meet him. And so it was a great way to help amplify all the great resources out there, not just from companies like work ramp, but from every other customer education company as well.

So Joe, thanks for putting that out in the world. But I thought we'd jump into hot-button areas, get your hot takes on them as well too. And maybe we just have a healthy discourse about each of these areas. So the first one, is an ongoing debate, especially in this market. Is customer education, is it a revenue driver or is it a cost center or is it both?

Wanted to get your take on what you would recommend to teams when they're thinking about either their customer education programs or their future CE programs.

Joe: I think there's a lot of factors that have to be considered, One of the big ones that I think you're going to hear a lot of people talk about in this conversation is the maturity of the organization.

If you're looking at a company that's been around for a while, probably has a lot more resources, they probably have a more established customer base, they have more of a need to kind of figure out ways to make customer education work more for them. But when you're a small company, customer education isn't normally one of the first things that pops into your mind on like teams I need to have, right?

Might have a sales team, or you might have a marketing team. Nowadays, you might even prioritize something like customer success. but customer education is probably not one of the first things that you're investing in. You might be starting off with something really simple, like a knowledge base.

And please don't take that to mean that making a knowledge base is easy, because I know it's super difficult. But when you have something like a knowledge base, You're not charging your customers to access your knowledge base. That's going to be huge turnoff for customers right away.

Can speak, from experience at my company. We had knowledge base, but then eventually we started offering live training as a paid service for our bigger customers. And for us, that transition, one of the big reasons went there was because we have really big accounts that, were used to operating at an enterprise level,

Ted: What is big in your profile?

Joe: So when I say big, I mean more big in terms of our annual revenue that we're getting from these companies. So if we have a company that's coming on and they're contributing 100, 000 a year, 200, 000 a year, that's a big customer for us. And for us, we want to make sure that that customer is given, the white glove treatment, you know, they've got everything that they need.

And they also have ability to afford. To pay for that more premium experience as well. So, if they have a team of 20 analysts and they need to train those people to use the tool that they've just purchased, and they're planning on purchasing year after year for, potentially, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A knowledge base isn't quite cutting it to getting them up to speed. So they want someone to go on site. They want someone to train them for two days, for three days, to really be hands on to answer all of their questions. that's how we got into kind of looking at training as. It's a paid service, and it was just to really serve that customer need, because as much as those customers were valuable to us, it wasn't something that we were prepared to offer for free at that level.

We did some live training, we can have a couple of hours here, a couple of hours there, answer some questions, do some Q and A's. But, for instance, send someone from Germany to the U. S. for a few days to come train you. That's not really something I think that most companies are willing to do, without a cost.

So, for us, that was kind of a natural transition.

Ted: I'm just trying to learn from personal experience. Did you start off paid and then at a free tier? Did you start off with both? Where did you start? It's really interesting. I think a lot of people don't know how to do paid.

Like you can just do free. There's this low commitment. It's easy to just throw out there, but I'd love to dive into the mechanics of pay too, but where do you start off? And I'll ask you a few questions about the paid side.

Joe: Yeah. So a lot of this did happen before I came to the company. So I don't know all of the ins and outs of, the decision-making process, but what I can say from my understanding is, besides having, technical documentation that was out there. We really started off with paid training.

If customers had, a short onboarding session, of course, maybe with like a customer success manager that is not going to be something we would charge for, obviously, if they're spending 60 minutes on a call. But when we started getting these customers asking for, days of training, we said, yeah, that's going to cost you something.

So we went straight the paid route because what we were bringing to the table was a pretty premium offering.

Ted: everyone want to take a quick second to interrupt this conversation with Joe Ryan and tell you a little bit about WorkRamp.

Joe runs an amazing customer education program. If you're looking for a great customer education platform. Look no further to work ramp work ramp is the all-in-one LMS. What we call the learning cloud can help you train your customers, your partners, and even your internal employees. And so if you want to learn more, visit us at WorkRamp dot com and we'll head back to the episode now.

So, when you think about paid, how do you enable sellers? Like, who's doing the selling for you? Is that happening by you? Are you doing really good enablement of the sellers?

Is it just like organically dropping from the trees? how do you actually close those sales? I think what people worry about is if I put a really good training program out there, no, one's going to buy it. I'm going to put all this time into it. So it's a little bit of the chicken before the egg problem.

So give us some tips on driving actual revenue.

Joe: Yes, so this is a tough question. and I'll tell you, we're still figuring it out, do have a few points that I think are relevant here. So, one of the challenges, especially when you're working in a SaaS company when it comes to training, is a lot of training revenue is not recurring revenue. So, you might have a customer that you're bringing on that, you want to renew those software licenses year after year.

But when they buy that training package one time, that's not that recurring revenue. So the salespeople are not as excited to sell the training package as they are to sell a few more software licenses because they know that's going to come in year over year. So some of it is having the conversation with sales about why is the training important, even if it's not.

Annual recurring revenue, what makes it valuable? So we know, for instance, based on just our internal data now, but also data that comes from the industry is in general, trained customers are more valuable customers. So if I can help the salesperson understand that, that yes, you might be making a sale of.

One time for this training package, but that means that this customer has X percentage more of a chance of renewing year over year over year, then that makes it a lot more appealing to that salesperson, right? So you do have to make sure that they understand where that value is coming from.

You also have to package it in a way that makes sense. So we did struggle in the beginning because we kind of sold training as like up to a certain number of users. And what that did was it really priced out our smaller customers. So we were saying you have to pay 15K to train up to 20 people.

But this account had five users and, maybe that 15K was equal to their entire year of software. So we're not going to double that just to train our people. And so that didn't work very well. we weren't getting a lot of traction. So, now we've pivoted a little bit. We're moving now towards a, per-user training model where they're really just paying for the number of people that we are going to be training for that customer.

and to kind of answer the last thing, who's selling this, it is mostly done, during initial sales cycle, they're really trying to, push, but Sales isn't easy. That means that when you have a customer on the line you're going through this process and you're adding stuff to that total, that can be a tough thing to get them to add to that total.

And the first thing that might go,is that training package. And the other reason that's tough is because. If those training packages aren't quick conversations, then the person you're working with is getting information overload. They've already had to decide 20 other things before the sale is complete.

If you're having them decide exactly what they want to learn during their training, that's just another roadblock for them to make a decision and win that deal. So, we really try to enable a quick addition to the sales process and we really want to make it as easy as possible. for both the customer and the person doing the sale to have that conversation and make a decision for you.

Ted: And are you doing the occasional sales call here and there too?

Joe: On occasion, more often for existing customers. So during the sales process, during the sales cycle, normally our account executives really handle a lot of that, but when we have existing customers that are looking at, doing renewals, doing upsells, buying additional products.

A lot of times, myself or someone on my team will join those calls, and really then we're looking at enabling them to use the tool more, to purchase kind of additional products that either we offer or we resell. And help them really see the value because a lot of times, at least for a product like ours, which is pretty complicated doesn't really jump off the page is like, I need this.

But when we can get in a call as a training professional and demonstrate that value in real time, really changes the nature of that conversation.

Ted: So it sounds like the biggest tips. if you want to drive revenue, it's always a great thing for a company. Make sure you get pricing down. I think packaging is probably really important. It sounds like even remember the early days of WorkRamp. We were packaging like on tiers of users and customers hated that. They're like, I don't even have that many employees. Why is that tier that high? So I love that. tip and then be prepared to sell. Like you'll probably sell occasionally, your team members are enabled on how to sell.

So that's a really good tip The one thing I want to close on all out of comment here is I saw this really I almost call it a quote-unquote hack in terms of, converting training into ARR where they essentially don't know if you've seen this, but they basically package training as annual recurring revenue by saying, Hey, every year refreshes, you get X amount of training sessions and allow the sales team.

So essentially, package this as an annual recurring revenue package, which then incentivize them more to sell it. So it's this nice flywheel effect, but they just had to change the mechanics on it. And sell it differently, but then it basically started getting recognized as essential services, ARR, which was a really cool hack.

So I want to talk about another topic, which I think is really important, which is org design. Customer education or design is super important.

It's a hot topic because it really says, Hey, how does a company. View customer education. I've seen with our customer base where CE might sit in marketing. I've seen it sit in customer success. I've seen it sit in product. In other organizations, maybe with the product support team as an example, give us your thoughts on what you've seen in the market, what you think is the best in the current state of the market and we could dive into it from there.

Joe: being somewhere on a customer team, probably close to customer success. I think that it does depend quite a bit.

Again, I'll lean on this word, the maturity of the organization. I think that matters a lot and from what I've seen and some recent conversations I've had, even. a lot of customer education leaders have said where I was in that organization at that time made a lot of sense. And then when I moved to a larger organization where I was in that organization also made a lot of sense.

Kind of like you said, this was in marketing, this was in customer experience. this was in customer success. I don't think that there's a right answer here, but where I see the trend needing to move is that customer education does need to be viewed As something that touches every part of the customer life cycle and the customer journey.

And I don't think that that necessarily has to be reflected in the customer organization. but I do think that there needs to be a conscious effort to ensure that all parts of the organization are working together to ensure that customer education is something that they're incorporating. So I would kind of say that here, one of the approaches that we've recently started taking what we call internally like the tribe approach where there's not, for instance, a large customer education umbrella.

We don't even call it customer education in my organization. We have a training team and the training team focuses almost exclusively on training customers post-sales, but. We have now very recently started working towards being part of sales calls. we have been working with marketing to produce content.

Marketing has been producing content that they've been sharing with us. After the fact, we've been working a lot more with the customer success team, just helping them navigate their customer calls and really understanding their customer use cases. We've been having more conversations with the product and tech team as we start to launch more products, and we're trying to incorporate product education from the beginning rather than launching a product and playing catch-up way down the line after customers have been using it for three or six months.

now, we're starting to identify people within different teams in the organization. Who have an understanding of the importance of customer education and bring those people together on a regular basis. Maybe it's biweekly, maybe it's bimonthly, right? However, we, want to do that. And, make sure that there's alignment, make sure that we're not duplicating efforts, make sure that we're sharing resources, and that way the company is benefiting as much as possible, even though we're not really in a position to do a full run.

Org restructuring just to kind of reflect how important we think customer education might be.

Ted: if we say definitively, we recommend you at least start in customer success, you sit somewhere in customer success. If we had to peel the onion back kind of one layer, where in customer success have you seen it be successful?

Like simple examples, I've seen it as like a whole pillar that reports into the VP of CS or CCO. Thank All the way to like, Hey, this kind of dangles off of the support team, almost the same team that manages the knowledge base as an example too. So do you have any recommendations or would you want to share structures that you have seen or experienced personally?

Joe: I think you really have to look at what you hope to gain from customer education within your organization. for me, for instance, the support. side of things is strong, but it's not where I would want my focus on customer education to be.

So, for me, customer education, where I see the greatest impact is going to be product adoption tool usage. And for me, like if I have to put all of my money in one spot, it's going to be in customer onboarding. I think every organization does this differently.

Maybe the CSM is purely responsible for customer onboarding. Maybe it starts with the sales account executive, and then there's a handoff to the CSM, however, that onboarding journey looks. I feel like that is where customer education has the ability to have the most impact because what I don't like is customer education as a last-ditch effort to retain a customer.

That is where I don't want to see. Customer education fall. I want it to be front loaded so that we're not just constantly putting out fires and getting on calls with customers, three weeks before their renewal dates and trying to, throw together a bunch of. information that we can hand to them and just hope that they sign the paper.

I know that's important, especially for a SaaS company to get those renewals, but I would much rather set the customers up for success within those first three months than try to get them to sign a piece of paper. In the last three months.

Ted: That's such a great point. So regardless of where it sits, I love that you should couple it closely to like, even at work ramp, we call it implementation managers. And then we hand off to a CSM essentially. But you're saying at least sit close to the implementation cycle somewhere. make sure there is adoption.

I've definitely seen that at the end of, Hey, you're on a renewal. Maybe adoption is low and you toss in a few training packages to increase it, but don't go sit on the renewals team or close to it. Go sit closer to the onboarding team.

Let me ask you this. Do you guys actually have a North Star for? Customer education, like,is it hours deployed to, adoption influence to revenue driven?

Yeah. So what we've identified right now, and I'll tell you, the metrics are one of the hardest part in customer education. I think anyone who works in the space is happy to tell you that proving their ROI within the organization is tough. we have a lot of kind of quote-unquote vanity metrics where we of users that have been trained.

Joe: NPS scores that are coming in after we deliver a training. Those are all things that we like to talk about, but we are now moving more towards the realm of product adoption. So we started collecting data around, for instance. Comparing product usage in the 90 days prior to training and product usage in the 90 days post-training.

That's one thing that we can look at. But for instance, another big one for SAS companies is license activation. So you might have a customer that buys 10 licenses of your products. But they're only using two of them.

That's not a customer that's going to be renewing 10 licenses again next year, right? If they've only got two people that are actually on the platform on a regular basis. So product adoption is really big as well as tool usage. These are two really big ones for us that we focus on.

Ted: Are you guys using like a BI system to track that Salesforce? or is it manual?

Joe: somewhere in the middle. It's very, duct-taped together. But we do a lot of manual input of data where, we say, okay, this account was trained. this is how many people from the account were trained. Then we have to go in once you've identified the account and we can have the business intelligence team then go in and run the reports.

Actually a pretty big project for us for the end of 2023, beginning of 2024. To really set up a dashboard where we can really easily go in and see what this impact is. And I will say one of the biggest challenges that we're having with that right now is really looking at both live training and on-demand training at the same time, because it's real to take a customer who received live training and say, that is a trained customer.

It's not so easy when someone's doing on-demand courses there's not as much rigor There's not as much oversight into how much time are they really spending. You can put a lot of little hacks in there that they have to spend an X amount of time or they have to pass this assessment or something but At the end of the day, it's tougher to define that trained user with the on-demand, at least at the stage that we are.

So combining those two worlds has actually been one of the biggest challenges that we're facing in those metrics right now.

Ted: So I'm curious, where do you think? The market is headed from a technology perspective as a supports customer education, anything, or any trend that you're excited about over the next three to five years.

Joe: I feel like those are very different questions. Where do I see it heading and where am I excited? I feel like those are pretty different because... you can't get out of this conversation without talking about AI. there's a lot of... talking about how to use it. I haven't really seen someone implementing it in a really strong way yet.

It doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Just personally, I haven't experienced it. I want to believe that there is a world where generative AI makes a huge difference for us. But, I think that there's a long way to go before we really start to see that and personally, I would prefer it not to be such buzzword if I'm looking at an LMS, for instance, tell me about the features that really work.

Tell me about the stuff that you've been working on for years that, works and don't try to sell me the newest, shiniest thing because. when I'm doing a product training, your AI is not telling me about my products. Like, we're a very niche product. The content is always going to be on us to develop.

AI just doesn't have exactly what we need to succeed right now. So is it going to be big at some point? Probably, but I'd like to see a little less chatter about it now until we can get some like tangible results coming from it. that's what I'd like to see the technology that would be most interesting to me, I think, is, in-app education is going to continue to be something that, we're going to need to see more.

We see it with a lot of tools already. I think there's a lot of room left for innovation in app education or in platform education. I think there are some people in the market that are doing this well, but I think that. If you can get someone to just go one place,right, like I'm just in the product and when I'm learning this thing and there's the little question mark or info-bubble next to it, and I can watch a quick two-minute video to really show me how to use that feature to the best of my abilities.

I think that people are going to gravitate towards that kind of content more than, going to the LMS and finding the right course and registering for it and, spending the time. I think it's tough. I really would like to see more, in-app education and in the dark course, I would say last one I'll throw out here because this is again going back to this maturity.

It's probably the wrong thing to say, but I think that. Knowledge bases are still not great. we still need to improve it. Like, in my opinion, I don't think that the software or like the platforms out there right now are really treating knowledge bases with the time and respect that they deserve.

Because the vast majority of users, when they want to answer something, they're googling it, and when they get an answer on Google, a lot of times, it's the knowledge base, and once they're there, it needs to be a place where they can gather a lot of information, find exactly what they need when they need it, and bookmark it as a tool for later, I feel like there's a lot of knowledge bases out there that just aren't really pulling the weight that they need to.

I know that that's like baseline really, really low-hanging fruit. I think that it's a really important thing that we got to keep moving forward.

Ted: You're spot on. Just think about it. I haven't seen a knowledge base really been innovated since like all of them are the same Zendesk intercom in the sense that, Hey, static, I mean, they're great knowledge bases, but static texts on a page and you have a person updated every once in a while. Maybe what you're saying is we merge the three ideas you've mentioned of.

Essentially, uh, AI, digital adoption platforms, knowledge bases and make it all intelligent, make it self updating, make it available for people in real-time when they need it. And we're onto something with all three of those, combined and consolidated. So, Joe, we had a great conversation today across, several key topics.

Had a few more that we couldn't get to, but I want to say thanks so much for coming on and thanks for contributing to the customer education community as well. Excited to see where you take both, Maltego and also, the newsletter as well, and maybe we'll expand to something even greater over time.

Joe: Thanks so much, Ted. It's been an absolute pleasure. I look forward to continuing the conversation. And any other forum we possibly have like the newsletter, like the big community that's out there. So thanks a ton for getting the conversation started.

Ted: thanks for listening to the Learn Podcast. If you're a fan of the podcast, Do us two favors. One is subscribe to it so you can get the latest updates of our most recent episodes.

And two, write a short review of the podcast. This helps us get discovered in the broader podcast community. Thanks again.